Noisy Citizens at the Somervell County Hospital District Board 5/21/2014Somervell County Salon-Glen Rose, Rainbow, Nemo, Glass....Texas


 

Noisy Citizens at the Somervell County Hospital District Board 5/21/2014
 


21 May 2014 at 10:34:47 AM
salon

My impressions of the meeting held last night at the GRISD admin building. My hub happens to be one of the board members but we aren't joined at the hip and I don't always agree with him on everything; these opinions are strictly mine. I also on my own volition as a private citizen brought my video camera to the meeting to record it, as I've done quite often over the last 4-5 years, but due to the noise volume in the meeting, you can't hear most of what happened on the dais. 

First, over 110 people showed up. I have never seen that many people ever at the GRISD admin building attending a school board meeting. Have seen where sometimes the foyer is full because parents are there to watch their children get an award but usually right after the award, the families leave. In fact, quite often, the board meeting room has empty chairs. Saying that during a board meeting it's the exception where someone is not sitting in a seat in the room rather than standing in the foyer. Those people could not have fit in the small board room at the hospital. Anyone that has been to the hospital knows that the conference room is up on the 2nd floor, accessible either only by a back stairway or going halfway through the hospital, down a corridor, up an elevator, down a hall and around a corner. Then the room has 4 tables in it in a square pattern and attendees sit in chairs against 2 walls. The overflow would have had a whole bunch of these people standing in the hallway bunched up near one of the 2 doors leading in. I remember going to a Glen Rose city council meeting several years back when the comprehensive city plan hearing was held, and a huge number of people attended, with quite a lot of them in the city foyer because they couldn't fit in the room. Anyway, I love when people attend government meetings but there was a problem.

The people standing in the foyer were noisy during 3/4 of the meeting, talked, muttered, gasped (I gasped too at one thing more on that later)and generally made it impossible to hear what was being said by the elected board members on the dais. I don't necessarily hold the audience responsible, it seems like at least some of the people there had never attended an open meeting before. I believe the board president, Chip Harrison, should have insisted that the attendees be quiet and not continued until everyone was still. It's not fair to those of us that did want to hear to not be able to do it, I was guilty myself in the back of whispering some comments, so I also should have been told to keep it down. I have been to meetings before where the audience was being disruptive or noisy and the president stopped the meeting and admonished the audience to be quiet and only continued after that happened. TOMA allows the board to remove people who are disruptive. I assume that the board president would tell the audience once to be quiet and if people deliberately kept on preventing us all from hearing, ask them to leave or have them escorted out. Again, it was rude and thoughtless for some people in the back to be noisy, but it was also the responsibility of the one running the meeting to take control. 

Second, on public comments. There was a section on public comments at the beginning. In every meeting I have ever attended, the people running the meeting say when there will be public comments and then say when that section is over. An open meeting is NOT a public hearing, if a govt entity sets aside a time for public comment (and they don't have to at all), then that's the time for people to have their say. Not during other parts of the meeting. Because it wasn't clear when the public comment time was over, some people kept on yelling out from various parts of the audience, which was disorderly. One person, Dr Justus Peters, that did a public comment, kept coming up to the dais more than once, and it appeared to me that the board members were interacting with him (coudln't tell for sure because it was so noisy).  I believe that whichever board members were discussing whatever with Dr Peters, they shouldn't have been.  The point of public comments is for someone to make a comment, and then, if warranted, the board puts the item on the agenda to discuss at an upcoming meeting. 

Dr Peters made a comment (paraphrasing) about how there were no microphones and he has severe hearing loss, that the ADA (American Disabilities Act) says he has a right to headset accomodations, asked for permission to reconvene or reschedule in more appropriate accomodations for those with disabilities and mentioned an ADA lawsuit. Although this could have gone a number of ways, I think the board made the right decision to get a new location (GRISD technology center)  that is ADA compliant for an upcoming meeting, even if it meant that all the agenda items had to wait for the next meeting. (Update: The school technology center apparently decided it also was not an appropriate venue for so many people, so I believe the meeting is going to be held at the Citizens Center on Barnard Street-as with any posted agendas, that ought to be date stamped and posted at the hospital, on the kiosk on the squae and on the hospital website under BOARD if that happens)  I was curious what other government entities in Texas do, as it seems reasonable to me that the person requesting items such as headphones, sign language, etc should give notice to the governmental entity before a given meeting and indeed, that's what TOMA says.  

"What accommodations must a city provide at its open meetings for an attendee who has a disability? Generally, a city must make its meetings accessible to persons with disabilities. Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) provides that activities of state and local governing bodies, including meetings, are subject to the ADA. In most cases, such a requirement means that the facility holding the meeting must be physically accessible to individuals with disabilities. Cities may ask that individuals with disabilities provide the city with reasonable notice on any accommodations they may need to attend the meeting. Cities must also be ready to provide an accessible meeting site and provide alternative forms of communications that address the needs of individuals with disabilities. This may involve providing sign language interpreters, readers, large print or braille documents upon request."

What's interesting to me about the venues is that GRISD doesn't have microphones at their board meetings, although it's possible there may be a microphone over the dais which is there to feed into the recording device. Mr. Rotan said that they had never had this many people at a meeting, so I suppose he will also have to consider this type of complaint.  The City of Glen Rose and Somervell County do have microphones but they are there to feed into the recording devices and not into output speaker devices. The Somervell County water district does not have microphones. I was curious as to what others would do, since they do not have speakers, and a couple of the entities told me that they would seat people with a hearing disability near the front and one person suggested that they would also make a copy of the audio available after the meeting so that the person could hear it over and over. The question really is what is reasonable and common sense. If the citizens who attend hospital board meetings want additional electronic equipment that would include speakers and headphones, then that is how they are deciding to spend all our tax money if the board approves that. Have to realize that no other government entity, including the school board in which room the hospital district board was being held, is doing that, but since Dr Peters was so quick to threaten a lawsuit, no doubt every government board should consider this. Update -I called ADA to ask about this, here is the link, because I'm a computer nerd. Seems to me that if an entity has a receiver that has an output jack that could accept headphones that would satisfy at least one part of this. And of course, the ADA suggested that it's not like equipment has to be purchased but can be leased. The other part would have to be to require people always to speak into a microphone, whether on the DAIS from as part of orderly process from the audience, in order to feed all microphone content into the headphones. That would provide the same experience for anyone sitting and listening as someone listening through a headphone connected to a receiver jack. And maybe all entities ought to consider the hearing enjoyment of ALL citizens, hearing-disabled or not, who may have trouble hearing a meeting because there are no speakers (Example from 2010 of the City of Glen Rose Meetings- I still believe EXACTLY the same thing). 

I wonder if Dr Peters brought up the issue of ADA compliance before with Ray Reynolds when meeting in the hospital conference room? I'm glad the meeting was not held there, it's too small, and definitely the people who were concerned about their safety because so many were standing in the foyer of the GRISD admn meeting would have had that same concern in spades in the hallway at the hospital. (There are also no microphones in that room nor any way to plug in a headphone or speakers)  If I was a tad more cynical, I might think that pulling this tempest in a teapot ADA compliance issue was an agreed upon ploy to stop the hospital district board from doing business (and, because Peters works at Pecan Plantation which is in the Hood County Hospital District, that he had some skin in the game of wanting to stop it). At the same time, were I disabled, I would want to be treated as anyone else, and have the same opportunity to fully enjoy a meeting (heck, I felt the noise in the room last night prevented me from doing so), so he definitely has a point. I wonder if there was a receiver in the GRISD board room, and, had Dr Peters asked in advance, if he could have been immediately accomodated without his feeling the need to so hastily threatening a lawsuit.

Bottom line is that the meeting was adjourned and another meeting scheduled, this time in the Technology Center, which is the old Dollar store on Hwy 67. I can't say I'm sorry because, since you couldn't hear what was going on because of the chaos of people not being quiet and orderly, and the president did not keep order, all those other items would have been really hard to hear too. 

Third, in connection with Dr Peters, Chip Harrison said something about didn't Dr Peters know he was deaf 3 days before the meeting or something to that effect? I don't think he was intentionally being rude and he did later apologize to Dr Peters, but it sounded snarky and it made the audience gasp and groan, including me. . I agree that Dr Peters could have said something before the meeting to notify the board he wanted a headphone, especially since NO OTHER GOVT ENTITY does this, including the GRISD board room (The school board conducts their meetings WITHOUT MICROPHONES and just never had this issue before... ever) , and I also think that there should be a notice on the board agenda letting people know to ask at least X many hours before a meeting. That's what seems reasonable to me.

P.S. Got my own apology at that meeting for being called "Honey".  And, got asked why I didn't post the video. It's because the POINT of doing the video, as an interested voting citizen,  was to hear and accurately represent what the people running the meeting were saying, not to pick up the gossip, catcalls, whispers, and conversations of the people in the back of the room who couldn't seem to be quiet in an open meeting. Again, I know at least some of the people in the back knew good and well how disrespectful and illmannered they were being, some didn't and had apparently not even been to a meeting before since they didn't know about agenda postings, and at least some (maybe in both groups) were there to disrupt the meeting. I hold the president of the board responsible for maintaining order and decorum if the people can't behave decently. And for myself, I pride myself when I have recorded, as a citizen, various meetings, and know that people can hear EXACTLY what was said. Well, people couldn't in this one. You can see people's lips moving but dang if most of the time you can even tell what they said. I have NEVER had that problem recording a school board meeting but then, less people are usually there and people have the sense and decency to be quiet. I didn't record it so that people can listen to conversations in the back of the room. And anyone that knows me knows it was MY decision; if the reader does not know this, it's an issue of ignorance and unfamiliarity with my family. 

P.P.S 1/2/2015 In going through some old open records request, I found something that Darrell Best said on Facebook that out and out lied about me. This was in response to a request I did asking for communications between Darrell Best and board members, and something one of the board members sent to him. I have NEVER posted on behalf of a government entity. NEVER. I have ALWAYS done it, and quite often, as a citizen. Darrell Best is misinformed, and it's just another defamatory example of his contempt for women. Think anyone is REQUIRED to give their video they post themselves to a government entity? Just because people saw me recording, and just because I am a board member's wife, doesn't mean that I automatically MUST give MY citizen video to government. Best was one of the ones shouting out from the back of the room, contributing to the lawless and mob atmosphere in the room. But even one that is part of what I DO consider a gang, him and the thugs that attended that decided to disrupt the meeting for almost its entirety doesn't get to spout bullchit about what *I* do without being corrected. Maybe Best should try to tell the truth, it would be refreshing. 

 

 


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